Tailored management packages could successfully reduce the amount of injurious pecking (IP) that occurs in commercial flocks of laying hens, show UK study results.
Specifically, rates of gentle feather pecking (GFP), severe feather pecking (SFP), vent pecking (VP), and cannibalistic pecking (CP) decreased as the number of management strategies employed at farms increased, report the researchers.
The bespoke packages used in the study included monitoring the use of highly absorbent wood chip bedding, rearing and transfer to the laying farm, litter quality and use, diet, range quality and use, as well as perching and other environmental enrichment.
The findings suggest that employing such tailored packages may increase productivity, since IP is associated with mortality, and there was evidence of reduced mortality at 40 weeks of age among flocks that used a management package.
"Continued engagement with the industry will be necessary to have a lasting impact on IP, and to discover other new and innovative management strategies that we have not included," write Sarah Lambton (University of Bristol) and colleagues in Veterinary Record.
Despite the reduced occurrences in flocks using management packages, the researchers note that IP "remained a significant problem," leading them to suggest that interventions such as genetic selection should also be used to minimize IP.
The team compared levels of IP among 53 flocks that adopted the tailored IP management package, and 47 that did not between February 2009 and May 2011. Visits to flocks to assess GFP, SFP, VP, and CP were undertaken at 20, 30, and 40 weeks of age, with an average of 7878 birds in each flock.
The likelihood for IP increased significantly with increasing age, with the exception of GFP, which decreased. SFP was a bigger problem in organic flocks compared with other types of flock, occurring at a mean rate of 2.24 versus 0.80 pecks per bird per hour.
Bivariate analysis showed that there was a significant positive correlation between cumulative mortality at 40 weeks of age and SFP, VP, CP, and plumage damage, with only the latter remaining significant when beak-trim status was taken into account, say Lambton et al.
"Only a small proportion of the flocks in this study had intact beaks, so we cannot assume these management strategies will be as effective in such flocks. This raises further questions about our ability to manage IP if a ban on beak trimming is implemented," they conclude.
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